Deer In The Headlights?

One of my readers wrote to me recently with the following woeful tale:

“When it comes to improvising, it’s a bit like being a rabbit caught in the headlights.

Have you ever felt like that?

You’re not alone:

I’m constantly astonished by how often people write to me with these kinds of sentiments.

There’s a simple reason why you might feel like this when you’re improvising.

If you feel like a deer caught in the headlights, or like improvisation is the equivalent of being a painter staring at a big blank canvas with no idea where to start…

You must be doing something wrong when it comes to practicing your jazz guitar.

You see, many people approach learning to improvise by using scales, modes, and arpeggios.

Whilst these are good to practice (don’t get me wrong), in and of themselves they won’t help you to sound like a jazz player.

A great sounding jazz solo requires something more…

Jazz vocabulary.

Licks.

Motives.

Bebop sounds.

If you haven’t learned these ‘words’ of jazz, you WON’T have any ‘raw material’ to start with.

In this situation, you DO, in fact, have a blank canvas with nowhere to go.

This is the thing a lot of jazz educators miss.

They shun the idea of learning licks and motives because they feel like it is not really ‘improvising’ per say.

Of course, when you’re at a very advanced level it’s good to “forget all that B.S. and just play” as Charlie Parker would say.

But for the beginner or intermediate player, you’ll be left confused and disappointed if you start out trying to solo with that mindset.

So…

This is where I want you to turn your attention to in the woodshed:

Learn melodies.

Think melodically when you solo.

Jazz licks and motives are great for this approach.

All they are is short melodies, jam packed full of delicious jazzy goodness.

Soloing with melody in mind is the most rapid way to improve your soloing on the guitar and have it sound really musical and confident.

Over to you:

What do you think of my reasoning here – that licks & motives is a better way to tackle improv then the scales/arpeggios/modal approach? Or do you think I’ve missed the mark here?

Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below…

Cheers,

Greg

==

Greg O’Rourke,

Founder, Fret Dojo

World Leader in Online Jazz Guitar Education

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The Curse Of Internet Overload

It’s kind of ironic that I’m writing this to you.

(After all, Fret Dojo is now one of the most popular jazz guitar websites on the internet, but that’s by the by).

What I want to raise with you is something serious…

Internet Overload.

Facebook.

Twitter.

Instagram.

All that stuff.

Collectively, this is an insidious force – ever so sneakily whittling away more and more of our time.

I’ve recently realized that it’s been taking a real toll on my own effectiveness and productivity, and, most importantly, focus when it comes to wholesome things like (you guessed it) jazz guitar practice.

So many of us just go online to check a few email messages, but 27 Instagram posts and a few lame talking cat videos on Facebook later, lo and behold…

There’s no time for anything else.

If you want to get good at any craft that requires skill, dedication and a great degree of concentration, like the glorious jazz guitar…

Internet Overload is your enemy.

Here’s the thing:

Being bombarded by the Internet doesn’t just cost you in terms of minutes and hours.

It also impacts on your general focus levels throughout the day.

This is far more serious, as it starts to impede your ability to concentrate on anything for any decent length of time.

So, a few days ago I made the bold decision to take my Internet browser off my smartphone – and got my wife to set a password to prevent me from reinstalling it.

She found it all rather amusing.
So what brought all this on?

I recently picked up a great book called Deep Work by Cal Newport, which explains what extended sessions of distracting activity on the Internet can do to your brain – it’s scary. Here’s the link if you’re interested.

So – turn off the dang iPhone.

Instead…

Turn on your amp, grab your six-string, and do something worthwhile with your time.

Making music is far more satisfying than the latest online doohickey.

Thanks for entering this little meditation with me today.

Let me know what you thought about this article by leaving a comment below.

Now go play some jazz!

Cheers,

Greg

==
Greg O’Rourke,
Founder, Fret Dojo
World Leader in Online Jazz Guitar Education

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Brushy One String

There’s someone that I would like to introduce to you today.

Brushy One String.

“…Who is that?” you might ask.

Let me show you.

He’s a one-string guitarist from rural Jamaica.

Check out the video below of Brushy’s playing in all his glory.

Then, read the rest of this article.

Brace yourself:

 

Seriously – how cool is that video.

But after having watched this, you might be asking…

“Greg – why did you show me this? After all, it’s not even jazz. Your website is supposed to be all about jazz guitar – right?”

I’m showing this to you today because I think Brushy’s playing actually contains the essence of jazz, even though technically he’s not even playing the style.

The reason:

As you may have noticed, Brushy only plays a one-string guitar – and only a few notes on that one string at that.

But – the rhythm and energy in the music, that elusive feel that we are all searching for…

This is what Brushy has in spades.

So much of the time, aspiring jazz guitarists get wrapped up in all the tricky scales, the clever substitutions, and spend hours practicing arpeggios up and down.

There’s something seriously missing in ​only​ focussing on those things though.

In Wes Montgomery’s words: “Regardless of what you play, the biggest thing is keeping the feel going.”

Brushy, you taught me a great deal watching you today.

Let me know what you thought about this video by leaving a comment below.

Cheers,

Greg

 

==

Greg O’Rourke,

Founder, Fret Dojo

World Leader in Online Jazz Guitar Education

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The Blues, from Way Back by Mark Whitfield (Part 2): Signature Licks Explained

The Blues, from Way Back by Mark Whitfield (Part 2): Signature Licks Explained

This post is part 2 of our investigation into Mark Whitfield’s jazz guitar solo from The Blues, from Way Back.

In this video lesson you’re going to learn 4 cool-sounding jazz blues guitar licks from Whitfield’s recording, so you can solo over a jazz blues like a pro.

(Part 1 of this series was a demonstration of a complete transcription of this solo, that you can download for FREE from my website by clicking here.)

 

About Mark Whitfield

Mark Whitfield is one of the most highly acclaimed jazz guitarists alive today.

 <p><br /></p>Throughout his career, he’s collaborated with legendary artists including Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Quincy Jones, Ray Charles, Herbie Hancock, George Benson, and many others.

In 1990 the New York Times dubbed Whitfield “The Best Young Guitarist in the Business”. Later that year, Warner Bros. released his debut album The Marksman, and The Blues From Way Back is a track off this landmark recording.

 

4 Jazz Blues Guitar Licks

Check out a demonstration video of the 4 jazz blues guitar licks from The Blues, from Way Back below.

Then, read on for explanations on how they work and tips to get the most out of them in the woodshed.

 

Cool Bonus: Get access to a FREE print friendly PDF version of The Blues, from Way Back licks by Mark Whitfield, complete with notation, TAB and analysis.

 

Hint: Fast forward the video to the time code (in green) to get to the spot in the lesson that demonstrates each step below.

Jazz Blues Guitar Lick #1 (See video at 0:56)

 

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You can’t get much more bluesy than this lick.

This one kicks off with a slide into the 6th of the chord, which is followed by the root – giving it that tasty major blues sound.

This is followed by one of the most important elements of jazz blues vocabulary – the slide from b3 (the ‘blues note’ in a major blues scale) to 3.

The final part of this jazz blues guitar lick outlines the C7 chord of the harmony. However, note that this lick sounds pretty cool over nearly all the changes of a jazz blues without transposition – meaning you can treat every chord in the blues progression as C7. You can hear me doing this when I play this lick along with the backing track in the video above.

So, experiment playing this lick over different chords in a jazz blues progression instead of only on the I7 chord.

 

Jazz Blues Guitar Lick #2 (See video at 1:35)

 

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Whereas the last lick had a major blues sound, lick #2 is distinctly minor blues in its quality.

The first run in this lick is easy to understand – it’s based on a minor blues scale (1, b3, 4, b5, 5, b7).

Like lick #1, this one finishes on a triplet figure outlining a C7 arpeggio. You can also use this lick on every chord of a blues progression without transposition and it will (usually) sounds great.

Notice how the first part of the lick is tense with a double time feel, but the final phrase is a slower rhythm and more relaxed.

This is an important concept to bring into your solos – the interplay between tension and relaxation.

To give the solo this tension/relaxation interplay, Whitfield mixes traditional blues sounds with sophisticated bebop approaches. The next 2 licks are great examples of jazz bebop vocabulary at its finest.

 

Jazz Blues Guitar Lick #3 (See video at 2:35)

 

Mark-Whitfield-licks-jazz-guitar-blues-3

 

There’s a lot going on in this lick.

A chromatic scale begins the line, which then moves to a commonly used bebop pattern.

My buddy Matt Warnock from mattwarnockguitar.com calls this bebop pattern a ‘4123 finger pattern’, as that’s the finger pattern it makes on the fretboard if you play the pattern on one string only.

Following this, a series of various enclosures highlight key chord tones of the harmony.

To get nitpicky – there are 3 different types of enclosures in this lick. The first is a chromatic enclosure (marked Enc) – where you play a note 1 fret above and then and then 1 fret below a target tone.

The next is a diatonic enclosure (D.Enc), where you do the same but rather than playing chromatically, you base the enclosure on the diatonic scale pattern of the given harmony.

The final enclosure is known as a diatonic chromatic enclosure (D.Ch.Enc), which is a mix of the above 2 enclosure types. In this context, it gives a strong harmonic minor sound to the line, as the C# is the raised 7th of Dm.

You thought that one was complicated. Wait till you see the next one…

 

Jazz Blues Guitar Lick #4 (See video at 3:25)

 

Mark-Whitfield-licks-jazz-guitar-blues-4

 

This lick is the most advanced and can be a bit tricky to get under your fingers, but it’s well worth it.

The first bar is full of strong bebop sounds – here we have a 3 to 9 arpeggio followed by a 7b9 sound, and again we see a 4123 bebop finger pattern – the same as what was used in lick #3.

Bars 2 and 3 have an interesting series of triads outlined: C – Eb – Ab – and Db.

Can you guess what’s going on here?

These triads are tritone substitutions of a I – VI – ii – V progression in the key of C – namely, C, A7, Dm, and G7. Each of them is substituted for their tritone equivalent.

This series of tritone substitutions (i.e. based on a I – VI – ii – V) is known as the ‘Ladybird’ progression – based on the closing chords of the jazz standard of the same name.

You could say the harmony is ‘elaborated’ here – instead of a straight C7 chord being outlined, a I – VI – ii- V turnaround is implemented instead to create more movement in the harmony.

“But!” (I hear you say) “…the harmony is on G7, not C7! Explain yourself!”

Here’s the answer:

The harmony is anticipated from the next bar.

Here, Whitfield is essentially thinking 1 bar ahead in the harmony. This is a technique used since the days of Charlie Christian to create a feeling of forward motion in a solo.

In summary – the harmony is elaborated, tritone substitution is applied to the elaborated harmony, all while anticipating the harmony of the following bar (phew – that was quite a mouthful).

Make sense? I hope so.

Having trouble printing out the above licks? Get a free print friendly PDF version by clicking here…

 

Tips For Practicing Jazz Guitar Licks

 

  • Make sure you learn the lick from memory as soon as possible – jazz should almost never be read from a page if you can avoid it.
  • Learn the lick in every octave and in every position on the fretboard (I use the CAGED system to navigate the fretboard).
  • Sing the lick as you play it on the guitar.
  • Play along with a backing track that is playing the chords the lick is based on (these are written above each lick).
  • Experiment with the lick to see if it can still sound good in other situations – e.g. if the lick is a major lick in C Major, does it work over the relative minor (Am), and vice versa?
  • Put on a backing track of a standard chart (e.g. a jazz blues, Autumn Leaves, All The Things You Are, etc), and practice soloing with the lick wherever you can throughout the chart.
  • Play the lick over and over but attempt to vary it slightly. I call this the ‘morphing’ technique. Alter the rhythms, mix up the order of notes, change the length of the lick and so on.

 

Conclusion

These jazz blues guitar licks are great examples of how to get a classic jazz blues sound into your solos.

Jazz blues requires a certain level of bebop vocabulary to give it the right jazz flavor, so experiment with these approaches to get that essential mix of tension and relaxation into your playing.

*Stop Press:* In an upcoming post I’ll be interviewing the man himself, Mark Whitfield, who’s going to share the story of his journey with jazz guitar as well as some tips to help aspiring players like you get more results in the woodshed.

I look forward to telling you all about it very soon – stay tuned!

Let me know what you think about today’s article on these jazz blues guitar licks by leaving a comment below…

Greg O’Rourke

BMus (Hons), ANU

 

Special thanks to Mark Whitfield for giving me permission to publish these excerpts on my website.

Photo By Bill Morgan Hartford, CT, USA – Mark Whitfield 1, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3856550

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The Blues, from Way Back by Mark Whitfield (Part 1): Transcription and Analysis

The Blues, from Way Back by Mark Whitfield (Part 1): Transcription and Analysis

I’ve got something special to share with you today.

To kick off this month’s series on jazz guitar blues, you’re going to learn a complete transcription of highly acclaimed jazz guitarist Mark Whitfield’s solo from The Blues, from Way Back: a track from his classic debut album, The Marksman (1990).

In today’s post, you’re going to learn:

 

  • The reasons why studying transcriptions is so important for any jazz guitarist
  • How to play the complete transcription of Mark Whitfield’s first solo from the recording of The Blues, from Way Back
  • A general overview of the types of approaches and concepts Whitfield uses in this solo.

Cool Bonus: Get access to a FREE print friendly PDF version of The Blues, from Way Back transcription by Mark Whitfield, complete with notation, TAB and analysis.

 

First, let’s have a brief discussion on why to learn a transcription in the first place…

 

Why Learn a Jazz Guitar Blues Transcription?

Learning transcriptions of master players is one of the most important things you can do as a jazz guitarist.

The reason?

It gives you a complete all-around jazz guitar workout.

Here’s how it works:

  • Usually transcriptions are tough technically, so learning a transcription is a great way to build up your technique.
  • You’ll learn a wealth of jazz vocabulary that fits well together, giving you plenty of new ideas to bring into your own playing.
  • Learning a transcription is the best way by far to train your ears – especially if you transcribe a recording from scratch.
  • By playing a transcription along with the original recording it was transcribed from, you’ll get a sense of how to add shape to your own solos – i.e., how to structure the rise and fall of a solo in order to tell a captivating musical story.

The last point is particularly important.

If you just learn jazz guitar licks in isolation, without listening to the lick in the context of the full solo it came from, you won’t get a well-rounded picture on how to the lick effectively as you improvise.

Here’s the thing:

Even if you end up only delving into a few licks from a transcription after you learn the full solo, these licks act as a kind of ‘trigger’ in your mind for the general vocabulary and approaches contained in the complete transcription.

So, learning a transcription is a very effective way to learn a huge amount of jazz vocabulary in a short space of time.

Convinced? Good. So let’s now dig into the transcription itself…

 

The Blues, From Way Back

The Blues, from Way Back is a track from Mark Whitfield’s debut album The Marksman, which catapulted him to international recognition in the 90s after he graduated from Berklee College of Music.

Why did I want to transcribe this recording?

This solo is probably the best example of jazz guitar blues I’ve come across, so I was keen to study this one intensely in order to get a more authentic jazz blues sound into my improvised lines.

Here’s the original recording of The Blues, from Way Back on YouTube:

What I particularly like about this solo is how seamlessly Mark Whitfield weaves traditional blues ideas between sophisticated bebop vocabulary.

Learning this solo has also been a great technique builder for my own playing.

Both the bluesy licks and the bebop lines are classic pieces of vocabulary that are really worthwhile to work into your own playing.

 

Presenting The Complete Jazz Guitar Blues Transcription!

So here it is:

The complete transcription of Mark Whitfield’s first solo from The Blues, from Way Back.

Watch the video to get a demonstration of the fingerings I used to play the solo, then read through the notation and TAB of the transcription below.

(Hint: If you want a print-friendly PDF of the transcription, click here to access it now).

Note: Fast-forward the video to 5:00 in for a close-up slow-motion view of my hands as I play the solo (if you need a closer look at the fingerings in action).

 

 


 

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Backing Track:

 

Having trouble printing out the above transcription? Get a print-friendly PDF version by clicking here…

You may be scratching your head as to what some of the annotations are in the analysis below the notation, so here’s what they all mean:

Key:

  • 4123 = Bebop finger pattern using 4123 fingers in that sequence
  • Aalt = A Altered Scale
  • AN = Approach Note
  • ANT = Harmonic Anticipation
  • APhrDom = A Phrygian Dominant Scale
  • BN = Blues Note
  • C7arp = C7 arpeggio
  • Chr = Chromatic Approach Chord
  • Chrom = Chromatic notes
  • CMajBl = C Major Blues Scale
  • CMinPent = C Minor Pentatonic
  • CMixo = C Mixolydian
  • App = Double Approach Notes
  • Ch.Enc = Diatonic Chromatic Enclosure
  • Enc = Diatonic Enclosure
  • DStop = Double Stops
  • Enc = Chromatic Enclosure
  • LN = Lower Neighbour Note
  • PN = Passing Note
  • Q = Quartal Voicing
  • UN = Upper Neighbour Note

Also, you may have noticed that I play entirely fingerstyle on the video, but Mark Whitfield uses a pick on the original recording.

A confession…

My plectrum style simply wasn’t up for the job of playing a solo as difficult as this, so I resorted to using my more secure fingerstyle technique for this one.

Feel free to use either a pick or fingerstyle to play this solo depending on what you’re most comfortable with.

 

Tips for Learning a Transcription to Get Great Results

There’s no doubt about it:

When you study a transcription like this, it’s crucially important to practice it in an effective way.

Here are some tips to ensure you end up getting the sounds of the transcription into your own playing when you improvise:

 

  • Memorize the transcription – don’t just read it off the page! Learn the transcription just one small phrase or even one bar at a time, and memorize it as you go. You’ll learn it faster, and assimilate the sounds into your ears much more than if you read a whole page at a time and then try to memorize a whole chunk at once. You’ll find that if you memorize as you go, you’ll memorize it much faster and more securely that way.
  • Listen to the video (especially Mark Whitfield’s original recording of The Blues, from Way Back). Don’t just try to emulate the notes and rhythms, but also the sound, feel and phrasing that he uses in his playing. This is all the stuff you can’t notate on a page but is one of the most important benefits of learning a transcription: learning how to shape and ‘speak’ your phrases in an authentic way.
  • Once you can play the transcription through, circle licks and patterns that appeal to you in the solo, and practice incorporating them into your own improvisations.
  • Practice improvising on a blues backing track in the style of the transcription you’ve just learned – this is a great way to bring your own original voice to the material.

One more thing:

Pay close attention is to the fingerings that I’ve given in the TAB – it matches the fingerings that I play on my video. Getting a workable fingering is one of the most crucial aspects of being able to sound fluent on your instrument.

 

Vocabulary Ideas Used in The Blues, from Way Back

Let’s look at some general points on the ideas Whitfield uses in his solo to create interest. Start experimenting with these in the woodshed, as they are classic jazz blues vocabulary ideas:

  • Sliding from b3 to 3 – this is a well-known blues cliche but Whitfield does it so much throughout the solo it helps give that classic blues sound throughout.
  • Harmonic Anticipation: Whitfield often anticipates a chord in his solo before it appears in the rhythm section. This is a simple way to create interest and forward motion in your playing and is a technique that’s been used since Charlie Christian. In particular, Whitfield often anticipates the I7 (C7) chord when the harmony is still on V7 (G7).
  • Harmonic Generalization – This means using the same lick or idea without transposing it over various key centers. This is an easy way to create tension and interest.
  • Alternating C Major Pentatonic/Blues and C Minor Pentatonic/Blues – using these two distinct harmonic colors is another classic blues idea that helps to keep the interest going in this solo.
  • Motive Repetition – Whitfield reuses a lot of phrases over and over throughout the solo in various ways – can you spot them?
  • Alternating between fast tension and slow relaxation – Most of the double time lines you can see in this solo are classic bebop vocabulary. The solo creates tension by using these elaborate double time lines. This tension is then released by following the double time lines with more simple pentatonic and blues lines. This helps to maintain interest, excitement, and variety.

 

Conclusion

As you can see, there’s a wealth of jazz vocabulary to be unearthed in The Blues, from Way Back solo by Mark Whitfield.

But we’ve only just scratched the surface…

Once you’ve learnt the whole transcription, it’s time to take some key lines and concepts out of the solo and incorporate them into your own playing in a deeper way.

That’s what part 2 of this series will be all about.

In my next upcoming post, I’m going to dig deeper into a few of the licks out of The Blues, from Way Back solo, look at how they function and give you tips on how you can incorporate them into your own playing.

I look forward to working on these with you then – stay tuned… :-)

 

Cheers,

Greg O’Rourke

BMus (Hons), ANU

Special thanks to Mark Whitfield for giving me the permission to publish this transcription on FretDojo.com. Find out more about Mark at his website, www.markwhitfield.com.

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Quick Video Lesson: The Amazing Line ‘Morphing’ Technique

Quick Video Lesson: The Amazing Line ‘Morphing’ Technique

I wanted to share with you this week a video of a technique that I use all the time in my own practice of jazz guitar improvisation, called the ‘line morphing technique’.

This technique is an easy way to get more creative ‘juice’ out of lines that you learn or transcribe.

What ideas do YOU have for topics on jazz guitar practice you would like me to create? Let me know by leaving a comment below or emailing me at greg@fretdojo.com.

Cheers,

Greg

*New Book*: The Easy Guide To Chord Melody Guitar

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I’m pleased to announce that Matt Warnock of Jazz Guitar Online and myself have spent this year co-writing a comprehensive guide on arranging chord melodies and how to master the art of chord soloing, entitled The Easy Guide To Chord Melody Guitar.

This brand new eBook is a complete A-Z guide on creating your own great sounding chord melody arrangements for trio and solo guitar situations, and you’ll also learn how to chord solo (i.e., improvise with chords) like a pro.

To find out more about the book and to get your copy, click here>>

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